Saturday, December 31, 2016

blank slate of snow: a pea picklin’ diary that includes the photo essay “Joe Beans & The Mystery of Snow,” music videos, ESP, great quotations, obsession, Patti Smith (again), a moose, a dream, and perhaps the longest blog post title yet; or, simply, an ode to my mom

Snow like feathers, six-inch loft moseying on up to eight, maybe ten. Shoving it aside is effortless, like walking along pushing a scoopful of down. Underneath, old snow, hard ice, whoopsie once, whoopsie twice, I’m down and I’m done. Let’s just get some more wood inside.

How does being snowbound keep sneaking up on me?

On the back of this snapshot, my father wrote: Christmas 1978.
I am on the left, age 21. My mom, 58, is on the right.

I settle into a hot bath with Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects.”

I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive.

Could you put it more plainly?

I am not young, and I love life.

There you go.

Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.

I think of that song. By Natalie Cole.

The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.

Jerry plowed last night, so out at near crack of dawn to get errands and business done before the next snow dump. Grey sky with southeast slash of hot orange. Road icy, covered with corn rows of tread-upon snow, sprays of sand, pavement showing through here and there, unwinding before me like Bruegel meets Pollack, but before long I know, just dirty—that is how it will look.

Easily visible up ahead against the white and light grey and smudgy brown is a murder of crows in the middle of the road. They lift, take flight, raven on pearl. Easily visible up ahead a line of deer, three, mincing across the road. They see me, freeze, dance into a rush. I slow down, wave them across, and they slow down, resume their careful stepping, move across the road like little old ladies with wooden canes that are well worn, tipped in black rubber.

Why did the deer cross the road? To get to the field of snow.

I move—the van moves—much better now that I’m turning off the van’s ESP. All last year it was messing me up—I did not know. And the other day when I was stuck atop the snow, could not figure it out, for hours, the ESP was to blame. ESP. This thing in my van that perceives for me, keeps me on my “intended path.” [See manual.] Discovered by accident by auto mechanic who had just put on snow tires but who, while trying to move van through crud of snow in front of garage, was being bucked and stymied as if snow tires meant nothing. So he figured it out. And it’s this button here, he says. ESP. Push it to turn it off. See, that dashboard light depicting car and zig-zag, it comes on, meaning off. Good to go.

Say what?

But it works. Push the ESP button to turn the ESP off because otherwise it is always on, there to help, there to make decisions for you, helping you to stay on your “desired path.” [See manual.] But in snow you go nowhere or slide around like slapstick on a banana peel.


“What does ESP stand for?” “I don’t know.” “‘Extra spinning’?” “Maybe.”

The manual, page 345, says: Electronic Stability Program.
ESP corrects for over/under steering of the vehicle by applying the brake of the appropriate wheel to assist in counteracting the over/under steer condition. Engine power may also be reduced to help the vehicle maintain the desired path.
But, for “more wheel spin” [see manual], as may be necessary in snow, sand, or gravel, turn the ESP off.

one night
People have the power. I watch videos of Patti Smith singing “People Have the Power” with all these different people. I watch over and over and over again. Delving into obsession.

Snow. That’s all I need to say. Snow. Non-stop snow falling yesterday, I’m guessing through the night, this morning a thick white expanse, another ten inches or so, sculpted, beautiful, confining, snow. It’s a rare day without a weather alert or two involving snow. One alert ends, another begins. This evening expect a “clipper system.” More snow. Sunday we may get a break. But next week, until temperatures plummet, every day predicted snow. When I got out the other day, I should have bought provisions for a month. I did get reading for like two years. Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” and Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” A couple of doorstoppers. I assume I will start both and abandon both, but maybe not. I once read “Don Quixote” in Spanish, but that was college. And so far “The Brothers Karamazov” is reading like any great litany of human folly, misbegotten relationships—I like it.
As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too.
Elliott is going bonkers. Cabin fever. Josie is prey.

Joe Beans & The Mystery of Snow

One can fly over snow.

One can bulldoze through snow.

Under a spruce, one can hide from snow.

One can look out over snow.

One can charge into snow!

One can trot along atop the snow.

Snow cannot stop one from surveying the gully.

One can sink into snow.

One can become obsessed with snow.

One can plow into snow where no dog has plowed before.

One can become obsessed with snow.

As I said.

The Mystery of Snow.

It all feels like waiting, this time of year. Just waiting for one year to end, another to begin. And even though here it is always quiet, it is even quieter this time of year, quieter still under a new moon and a foot or two of freshly fallen snow.


My mother has been under hospice care since early December. I am here, she is there, we’ve said our goodbyes. So many times. Seems long ago. I get reports from my sisters and I feel strange: a strange and profound peace tinged with just the slightest bit of unease. My mother is 96. We’ve shared much love and laughter. What we’ve held back, we’ve held back.

My mother.

Last night I dreamed of being back in Evanston and out through the window I saw a moose. A big but young, gangling, long-legged moose with the funniest, most curious face. As soon as he saw someone, anyone—and I knew it was a he—he looked aghast and shied away with an awkward kick. But when he noticed my friend through the window he came closer, cocking his head one way then another before darting off. We all got a good look at him. We went outside to try to follow him. There was no snow, it was more like summer, and out on the street people were milling around and the moose had disappeared. An eight-piece band strutted by and it reminded me of the band from the Save-A-Soul Mission in “Guys and Dolls.”

Just after nine the sun comes up, the snow sparkles.

Just about eleven my sister calls. My mother died early this morning. It was peaceful. I can think of nothing to do but to get out all the old Ella Fitzgerald records—there are an even dozen. Then the phone rings, and for a moment I think someone is calling to say No, Mom is not dead. Not yet. I answer and it is my other sister and I tell her my weird crazy thought and she says not so crazy, Mom was persistent.

And my mom, she lived a good life. She shared it with love.